Jai Alai goes extinct in Miami with new twist on classic sport: ‘Like racquetball on steroids’


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At one time, Jai Alai was as popular as horse racing and greyhound racing in the United States, where the average fan could go to a casino, place a bet on a match and watch it in real time.

Jai alai, often played in Spain, France and other Latin American countries, made its way to the US at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and spread to several cities in Florida as far away as Connecticut and Rhode Island, and as far west as Las Vegas.

Jai Alai has been referenced in pop culture in movies like “Black Mass,” TV shows like “The Simpsons” and video games like “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” but the sport has been relegated to a facade based in the Magic City. The casino in Miami is also known as the “Yankee Stadium of Jai Alai”.

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A general view of some of the equipment needed for a Jai ​​Alai game in Tampa, Florida in November 1989.

A general view of some of the equipment needed for a Jai ​​Alai game in Tampa, Florida in November 1989.
(Scott Holleran/Allsport)

However, reports of the sport’s demise appear premature.

Magic City Jai-Alai has emerged as a destination for top-flight Jai-Alai athletes from across the US, Spain, the Philippines, France and Mexico. While the head-to-head and doubles season is currently underway, the league is also set to bring back Battle Court for its second season. The four teams, Cesta Cyclones, Chula Chargers, Reboot Renegades and Wall Warriors, will play singles and doubles matches for nine weeks starting September 23 and ending on November 18.

To the uninitiated, Jai Alai may sound like the newest pro sports league on the block, similar to Ultimate or Cornhole. However, it is one of the oldest sports in the world – created in the 1800s.

Saloni Joseph jumped from the wall.

Saloni Joseph jumped from the wall.
(Jai-Ali World)

Scott Savin, Chief Executive Officer of Magic City Casino, explained the sport perfectly.

“It’s like racquetball on steroids,” Savin told Fox News Digital, “It’s a three-sided court and our front and back walls are made of concrete.”

In the head-to-head format, players go against each other in head-to-head or two-on-two matches. Players or teams must win two out of three sets played for six points. Unlike tennis, there is no deuce or advantage, and ball speeds can reach up to 150 mph.

Definitely requires a high level of athletic ability.

Chris Bueno returns the ball during the Jai Alai game at Magic City Casino Fronton, Sunday, March 13, 2022, in Miami.

Chris Bueno returns the ball during the Jai Alai game at Magic City Casino Fronton, Sunday, March 13, 2022, in Miami.
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Miami Casino works to save the beloved Jai Alai from extinction

“An analogy we sometimes use is if a baseball player has to throw with his gloved hand. So imagine the guy is catching it with his left hand, and then he can’t transfer and throw with his right. He has to throw. Return the baseball to the base or home plate with his glove hand,” Savin explained. .

“It takes a tremendous amount of athleticism. Players are a lot more skilled because you have to play the game right-handed. If you’re a lefty and we have a lot of lefties on the roster, they have to learn to catch. And throw with their right hand.”

In an effort to attract a larger audience, Magic City partnered with Jai-Alai Bet Rivers. Sports fans in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, Illinois and Iowa and parts of Mexico and Canada can bet on the game through the app. The league recently announced a streaming deal with ESPN3.

The league has also grown on social media, with more than 130,000 followers on TikTok in the past six months.

Magic City Jai-Alai offers another twist to distinguish itself from the major professional sports leagues in North America – the average Joe can own a team. It costs $100,000 to sponsor a team for a season. Some of the team’s owners include Chris Cote of “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz” podcast and South Florida radio personality Kay Marie.

“For the owners who are writing checks from their own bank accounts, they’re playing for a cash prize if their team wins a championship,” Savin said, adding that some of the $50,000 in donations will go to the owners’ charities. choice.

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“One of the families that is coming back and buying in for a second season, even though they’re writing the check themselves, is designating Nicklaus Children’s Hospital for $50,000 if they win this year,” Savin said. “They’re not going to pocket the money and try to recoup their investment. They give 100% to charity. It’s just a good thing and what we’re really trying to do is build community with Jai Alai.”

Matthew Langhans throws the pelota against the wall.

Matthew Langhans throws the pelota against the wall.
(Jai-Ali World)

The second season of Magic City Jai-Allies Battle Combat begins as the NFL and college football take center stage on TV, radio and podcasts. MLB also wraps up in preparation for the playoffs, and the regular seasons of the NBA and NHL are taking shape.

So, why should the average sports fan tune in to a Jai-Alai match?

A general view of the action during a 1989 Jai Alai game in Tampa, Florida.

A general view of the action during a 1989 Jai Alai game in Tampa, Florida.
(Scott Holleran/Allsport)

“I think there are two reasons,” Savin said. “I look at LIV Golf and obviously we follow these things closely and it’s great, and it’s (Saudi Arabia) out there and they’re literally offering hundreds of millions of dollars but two things about us is you’re a sports fan … we think the ability to be an owner in sports is pretty cool. .

“More importantly, the athleticism involved in playing Jai Alai is probably greater than any game we can think of. I mean, you have a ball going 150 mph. All (the players) wear is a helmet — no padding. They’re not like hockey players or hockey goalies or football players. It’s 150 mph. A ball moving at speed, you put on a helmet, and it’s coming at you, and you literally have seconds to react, make a catch, and make a return throw. If it’s coming off the wall, how do you angle yourself? I mean, when people watch sports in person or on TV, they appreciate the excellence of the athletes. I think they will.”

Lindsey Savin, the league’s director of communications and Scott’s daughter, agreed with the notion of incredible athleticism.

“Jai Alai is an exciting sport to watch, and I think as a sports fan that comes down to the ground level and being able to follow the careers of all these athletes and watch them get better and better and pick your favorite players. And it’s really fun to be a part of this evolution of this sport from the beginning,” he told Fox News Digital. “There’s no argument. It’s a really exciting sport to watch.”

Scott Savin added that players are essentially competing for the love of the game.

“They’re not paid like basketball players or football players or baseball players. They’re not making millions of dollars. Average players make about $50,000-55,000. The top guys make a little over $100,000,” he said. Every person in the locker room appreciates the ability to become a professional athlete.

Jai Alai players play with their chisteras, large wicker gloves, during the Cesta Punta match in Anglet, Basque Country, France, on January 30, 2019.

Jai Alai players play with their chisteras, large wicker gloves, during the Cesta Punta match in Anglet, Basque Country, France, on January 30, 2019.
(REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)

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“I think they all understand that they are part of an effort to save a sport that used to have 10,000 people a night in Florida or Connecticut in the eighties to watch Jai Alai. There is a huge effort from both the athletes and the athletes. Behind the scenes of all of us our goal is to save the savings that are worth saving and make it financially viable and expand, more teams, Our aim is to go to more cities, more countries and bring Jai Alai back to what it was in the eighties.”



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